Pakistan Reader# 545, 31 January 2023
D Suba Chandran
Suicide attack. Societal anguish. State anger. Statements of a tough response. Pause. Debate over a dialogue. Repeat. And repeat.
The above should explain what has been happening during the last one decade, or ever since the TTP made its entry into Pakistan. Unfortunately, the above cycle will get replayed even after the latest suicide attack on a mosque in Peshawar.
There have been discussions already over the lapse of security, as the attack has taken place in police lines. There is also anguish about how can these attacks happen in a place of worship. For a determined suicide bomber, no level of security is impregnable. And for the TTP, neither the place of worship nor a school full of children is any different. For the TTP, schools, hospitals, and religious places are an easy target, with a potentially high casualty rate. So the immediate question – how can they – is immaterial. Because, they have been targeting these places at regular intervals, taking a high toll.
The TTP has been consistent. There have been a series of slow-burn violence against the state and civil society targets. In the tribal regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there have been a series of attacks, continuing irrespective of whether there was a ceasefire in place or otherwise. Also, there have been high-profile attacks on schools, Sufi and Shia places of worship, such as the latest one in Peshawar. Though the TTP attacks have been concentrated more in KP, especially in the tribal districts, there have been regular high-profile attacks in the other three provinces as well.
The TTP-led attacks have been regularly taking place, whether there was a pro-American regime in Kabul or whether Afghanistan is ruled by the Taliban. So the problem cannot be only on the other side of the Durand Line. However, an unfriendly Afghanistan has been an easy reason to blame for what is happening within Pakistan.
The TTP has been consistent in its attacks. The State has not been in its responses. While the immediate response after all big-profile attacks has been of reprisal and retribution, the long term response has been a muddled one. Consider the following. Ever since the TTP was formed, or even before, from the days of Nek Mohammad, the State policy has been indecisive. While Pakistan announced a series of military operations, they were either not followed to the logical conclusion, or intervened with a mis-placed dialogue with the TTP to surrender their weapons, or not carry out attacks.
If anyone would want to hold a dialogue with the TTP after the horrific attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014, then, there is something seriously wrong with the leadership and the decision-making process. Unfortunately, that is precisely what happened. Imran Khan took this process to the extreme, by pleading for a total appeasement strategy with the TTP. While the others tried to appease, he surrendered to them, in the name of practical issues and ground realities.
But should Imran be the only one to be blamed for pursuing the dialogue option with the TTP? Political leaders before Imran did consider the option as a strategy. While the Parliament has been repeatedly harping on a consensus across the political spectrum, the response has been anything but it.
Outside the Parliament, the Establishment also should take responsibility for Pakistan’s muddled approach towards the TTP. While Rawalpindi was solely responsible for the military operations, given Pakistan’s realpolitik, the political response to dialogue with the TTP, could not have been taken outside the Establishment.
The larger question is: Why would Pakistan want to appease the TTP? This question needs a separate space.